Earlier today Theresa May was handed a letter, signed by all 13 of her Scottish MPs, threatening to vote down her Brexit deal if it doesn’t match her promises on fishing.
Fishing is a very big issue in north-eastern Scotland, a newly re-captured bastion of Scottish Toryism, and the party is determined to make sure that the UK is outside the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy by the next set of Holyrood elections in 2021.
This move has been prompted by reports that the Prime Minister “will park the controversy over fishing rights until the negotiations on a future trade deal, which won’t start until next year”, and that EU negotiator Sabine Weyand had told European ambassadors that “would have to swallow a link between access to products and fisheries in future agreements” over market access.
As for their specific demands, they want all powers over fishing repatriated and then for the UK to be able to negotiate access and quotas “the EU and other third countries independently on an annual basis, without any pre-existing arrangement being in force”. That means no deal on fishing baked into the future partnership.
It isn’t yet clear how much of a problem this actually is, not least because we don’t know the precise details of the deal yet. Sam Coates reports that David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, and his colleagues might be satisfied simply with the Prime Minister confirming that Britain will be an ‘independent coastal state’ by 2020. So it could be a face-saving or PR exercise.
However, May’s problems with the Scottish Conservatives run deeper than fishing. According to the BBC both Mundell and Ruth Davidson both indicated only last month that they might resign from their roles if the Government proposed an exit deal which undermined the territorial integrity of the UK by imposing ‘special status’ on Northern Ireland. If the Democratic Unionists’ response is any indication, that seems to be the Prime Minister’s intention.
Ross Thomson, the arch-Brexiteer MP for Aberdeen South, has said this afternoon that he’ll vote against the deal – is May about to lose both her party’s leading Scots? Neither will be keen to leave, but both will lose credibility if they simply accept what just weeks ago was beyond the pale.
If they do go, the parliamentary arithmetic gets very tricky. Losing all 13 of the Government’s Scottish MPs, as well as all ten of its Northern Irish foederati, would do more than just bolster the ranks of the committed anti-agreement Brexiteers. It would also send a very strong message to every Conservative MP of unionist conscience about the implications of the deal for the future of the United Kingdom.